The Productivity Pro Blog - Time Management, Getting Things Done, How To Be More Productive
Order Now - What To Do When There's Too Much To Do

Technology Unchained: Embracing The New Without Risking the Downside

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.” — Stewart Brand, American writer and editor of the Whole Earth catalogue.

Technology Unchained: Embracing The New Without Risking the Downside by Laura Stack #leadership #productivityAccording to legend, in 1779 a British weaver named Ned Ludd destroyed two stocking looms in a fit of rage. Ever since, his name has been synonymous with those suspicious about or fearful of new technology. But Luddites have always been with us. No doubt, scribes in ancient Sumeria sneered when young upstarts started writing on that newfangled paper stuff instead of traditional clay bricks. After all, why change what works?

Ironically, the Internet overflows with stories about how new electronic technologies might doom society as we know it. The commentators fear our electronic helpers will atrophy the writing and social skills of entire generations, and open up company systems to widespread pillaging before going on to destroying entire industries. In a century, human society will no doubt be nearly unrecognizable to those of us living now. But that’s how life works. As long as we continue to think and dream, technology will continue to advance, and the old ways will become casualties to the new.

Dipping Your Toe in the Water

All that said, new technology can have its dangers, especially in the workplace. Improperly implemented, it can slow or stop productivity; and yes, inexperienced users can leave backdoors open for hackers and identity thieves to waltz right in and steal or corrupt data. So you do have to think a little like a Luddite before you dive into the techno-waters.

1. Study its impact. Will the new technology under consideration really upgrade your productivity? If not, why bother? If so, might it prove more trouble than it’s worth? Is the new functionality worth the cost of the training you’ll have to pay for when you upgrade? It may well be. For years, many professional writers refused to move from typewriters to word processors…but when they did, they realized the new technology helped them produce copy faster and made revisions easier. No more retyping a whole page to correct a single typo—a few keystrokes and viola, a clean new page! Overall, it improved their productivity. How will the new technology under consideration help or hinder you? Many large organizations skip versions of Microsoft Outlook, for example, choosing to go directly from 2007 to 2013, skipping 2010, because the functionality didn’t change much, and it’s extremely expensive and complicated to upgrade thousands of users. Examine the pros and cons in detail before you implement it. If the cons outweigh the pros, forget it.

2. Calculate the costs. At some point, you’ll have no choice but to upgrade. Either manufacturers will stop supporting your old version (think Windows 95), or everyone else will adopt the new, leaving you in the dust. But ask yourself: must you do it now? Bleeding-edge technology comes with a hefty price tag—and lots of bugs. You may want to wait a year or so, until the price comes down and the bugs are fixed. A handheld DVD player once cost thousands of dollars. Now you can get one for about 30 bucks. Similarly, in 1992, expensive dual-core 486 IBM clones were the acme of modern desktop computing. Within a year, manufacturers couldn’t give them away, because everyone wanted Pentiums.

3. Consider the Schlimmbesserung factor. Will the upgrade really increase your productivity over the long run—or will you end up working harder and longer? The Germans have a word for “time-saving” technology that generates more work: Schlimmbesserung. Take the vacuum cleaner. Before its invention, most floors consisted of easily swept hardwood. Carpets were relatively few, small, and ornamental, and got a good cleaning a few times a year. Afterward, wall-to-wall carpeting became popular, and homemakers found themselves vacuuming several times a week. Will your new technology generate productivity-killing Schlimmbesserung for you and your team?

4. Include an exit strategy. Rather than commit entirely to the change right from the beginning, ease into it. Test the new technology to make sure it does all it promises and don’t hesitate to roll back to your original tech if it doesn’t. Back in 2001, a telephony company called Inet (now part of Techtronix, Inc.) implemented a company-wide computer system upgrade that, the IT department promised, would help everyone do their jobs better. They got well into it before many employees realized they’d lost functionality. Vital software wouldn’t run on the new operating system, and in many cases, the new OS itself wouldn’t run effectively on the employees’ computers because the computers themselves were outdated. By then, the IT team had already purchased hundreds of expensive OS licenses and had committed to the changeover. Needless to say, it cost quite a bit more than expected to upgrade and replace the systems of all 250+ employees (decent workstations cost about $2,000 back then).

Handle With Care

We all realize that new technology can be dangerous when misused…but we use it anyway, because the benefits usually outweigh the dangers. This has proven especially true of the electronic technology that’s recently revolutionized the white-collar workplace. As long as you take reasonable care when adopting new technology, watching closely for the pitfalls, the worst it will do is slow you down a bit before you retrain, regroup, and recharge!

Handle With Care: Avoiding the Dangers of Social Media

Handle With Care:  Avoiding the Dangers of Social Media by Laura StackEvery hiring manager has a story about someone who has botched a job interview or torpedoed a career due to thoughtless comments on social media sites. I know someone whose close friend, a technical writer, lost his job after making negative comments about his company’s investment prospects on MySpace (remember them?).

Few people think twice about posting embarrassing party pictures on their Facebook pages or casual trash-talk on Twitter. However, your prospective employer or current company also has an online presence, so you are the face of the company. Accordingly, they may keep an eye on you, which is not tough when you voluntarily post content for the world to see. As your mother always taught you: don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Moreover, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

As painful as harpooning yourself can be, time waste represents the true danger here. Yes, I use social media, and you may use social media at work for valid reasons: you are in marketing; you are in HR trying to recruit people to your company; you are an entrepreneur reaching out to prospects to gain more business; you are networking for a new job; or you are staying in touch with customers.

However, many uses of social media aren’t work-related and represent wasted time. The traditional work-year clocks in at 2080 hours, or 260 work days annually. Suppose you spend 10 minutes each workday Tweeting or checking Facebook when you should be working. That comes to 2,600 minutes a year—over 43 work-hours, down the drain. If your manager decided to deduct that at the end of the year, you’d have over a week less PTO.

Unless social media provides part of your income or your job requires you to monitor it, then it has a lousy Return on Investment. Even if you do use it sensibly at work, it may still have a poor ROI. Do you know the time you spend on it yields correspondingly high results?

You’d kick anything else with a bad ROI to the curb, so if it isn’t providing proven results, tune out, drop out, and refocus on what matters. Save Facebook, Twitter, and the Pinterest for your non-work time. Even then, take care what you post—because everyone’s on the Internet nowadays.

Does social media provide a high ROI for you? How do you keep your social media usage in check?

The Mental Whetstone: Unconventional Ways to Hone Your Wits

“Make sure you take the time to feed yourself with what your spirit has to offer.” — Darren L. Johnson, American author.

The Mental Whetstone:  Unconventional Ways to Hone Your Wits by Laura StackNo doubt about it: you have to keep your wits sharp to successfully lead a team. Some experts claim that doing tough mental exercises will help you sharpen your mind: the New York Times crossword, Sudoku, logic puzzles, reading, learning new tasks, taking classes, and so on. While there’s nothing wrong with any of those activities, some scientists say these studies are flawed—the jury’s still out on that.

I tend to intuitively believe the studies that show dementia and Alzheimer’s have large genetic components, so I’m always eager to know how to keep my wits sharp. But the way I look at it, I’m getting plenty of mental stimulation from the challenges of running a business and doing my job on a daily basis.

Think about it. In addition to juggling umpteen projects, you’re constantly busy planning how to delegate them to your team members, trying to balance the summer’s vacation schedule, digging up more work for when times get lean, clearing workflow blockages, jumpstarting new projects, mediating disputes between team members and/or co-workers, introducing people to others in your network, and handling a hundred other little tasks. That provides enough mental activity for any ten Sudoku volumes, with a Martin Gardner Mathemagics book on the side.

So I’m going to buck the trend here and say that instead of doing more to hone your mental alertness, you should do less.

The Inactive Angle

My specialty as a productivity expert is showing people how to do more in less time. I try to practice what I preach and do get a tremendous amount done. But the most important part of my life revolves around my loved ones, so I want to spend as much time with them as possible.

But in a world where agility, flexibility, speed, and innovation have become watchwords, you can easily get overworked and overwhelmed. I believe doing too much causes you to lose your mental edge, not hone it.

You aren’t a robot. You can’t work nonstop. You must take a little time to back up, breathe—and give yourself a break. Literally. Then you can put your head down and work anew. Try these tips to get you there:

1. Get on top of your to-do lists. While you require to-do lists to structure your productivity, they can get out of hand—especially if you pile on 137 tasks in your quest to get things done. Triage your task lists mercilessly, and then prioritize what remains by importance and due date. Practice purposeful abandonment of the least important tasks and delegate like crazy.

2. Review your goals. Stop, look around, and re-evaluate where you are—and where you should be. Does your current path align with the organization’s? What about your team and personal goals? If things seem hopelessly snarled, take a weekend off and check into a hotel for a 48-hour strategic thinking retreat. You’ll emerge organized and excited.

3. Take your breaks. You have lunch break and weekends off for a reason: to recharge your mental batteries, regaining your edge before you return to the front. You may occasionally skip a break or work through a weekend because of a tight deadline, but don’t make a habit of it—or you’ll pay down the line. And take your full vacations! Escape the hassles of the office, if only for a week or two a year. If possible, disconnect as much as possible.

4. Disconnect for family and friends. Stop checking work email incessantly throughout the evening. Be present with the people you care about most. Even if you stay busy physically, you still need a change that allows your brain to bounce back to its normal elasticity and sharpness.

5. Have fun at work. While we can’t all offer in-house games, personal projects, and free candy like Google and some other companies do, work doesn’t have to mean drudgery. Don’t act frivolously, but do give your people reasons to look forward to work every day. Do things to promote solidarity, celebrate important life events, and publically reward team members who’ve done exceptionally well. Appoint yourself or someone else the Morale Officer, and don’t lose sight of the post’s importance.

Walking That Fine Line

Working hard and doing your job well is important; no one disputes that. That said, you don’t—or at least shouldn’t—live to work. You need to regain control of your productivity so you can get out of the office on time—not only to recharge and recapture your mental edge, but also to devote to the people you care about, and who care about you.

Sometimes work has to wait while you live the rest of your life. Then jump back into the fray when you’re at your best—you’ll end up doing a much better job than if you’d just trudged straight through.